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The Long Road Home: The Journey of Alice & Jasper

Summary:
This is the story of Alice and Jasper, before they met one another and after, up until they met the Cullens. It begins with Alice in the asylum. I have taken great pains to keep the story as in-canon as possible and remain true to the characters as they were created by Stephenie Meyer; I also have tried to be as historically accurate as I can. I hope you enjoy the story, and I welcome all feedback. Thank you for stopping by!


Notes:


6. Chapter 6: Road to Perdition

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Chapter 6: Road to Perdition

Her eyes were like flaming coals in the darkness as she smiled at me, her teeth glinting in the faint glow from the few stars weakly shining down on us. The night was fading. Her scent drifted toward me on the cool summer pre-dawn breeze, cinnamon and cloves and eucalyptus, as well as the scents of the desert, stone and dust and dried grass and creosote, all wrapping me like a warm blanket. I crouched down, waiting, watchful.

I took a deep breath, inhaling all the scents around me, my skin vibrating with the sensation of movement from the others as they surrounded me. I could just barely see them as they circled me, but I could keenly feel their animosity, their determination to rip me limb from limb, as if they were my own emotions; I could hear their eager breathing and their low-pitched growls and hisses, and hear their feet shuffling through the dry summer grass as they tried to flank me.

“Make me proud, Jasper,” Maria murmured huskily, and chuckled, drawing back into the darkness. “Make me proud.” I heard the whisper of her skirts as she retreated.

She was leaving me alone with them all, to see whether I would triumph or fail.

My whole body tensed, freezing into the utter and complete stillness that I was so familiar with now, the state of total sensory awareness that enabled me to analyze everything going on around me, to respond properly.

Even as hyper-aware as I was, focused on my surroundings, my mind was still capable of wandering.

Despite my earlier despair and horror at what I had become, I had adapted well to my new…life. I suppose “life” is the only word one could use to describe my existence, although I knew I was technically more dead than alive in most people’s estimation.

Maria had made me what I was. She had taken me from the life I had known and condemned me to this…existence as this strangely beautiful and horrifying creature that I saw whenever I looked into a mirror…which didn’t happen often anymore. It shook me to my core, to see my eyes red as blood, my skin so glitteringly pale, my face so different than it had been before.

I had to admit, though, that the strength and speed and heightened senses were thrilling. I exulted in all of those things, the natural huntsman and soldier in me breaking free of the restraints my humanity had imposed on me before and taking over in fierce glory. I was now a fighting, hunting, killing machine, and it was glorious when the frenzy took me, the sheer abandon of it.

Maria had told me upon waking from the burning hell of the transformation that I was now immortal, that I was something that was usually called a “vampire.” I had never heard the word before; raised by no-nonsense Protestant parents in the wilds of Texas, I hadn’t been exposed to much superstition, and that was before Bram Stoker wrote his famous tale of the vampire Dracula and popularized the idea of us, as erroneous as the myths were about our weaknesses. Although the idea of living forever was reassuring in some ways, the fact that I was no longer the me that I had been for my entire life was truly and profoundly disturbing at the times when I allowed myself to dwell on it. My mind was so vast and clinical now, and the thirst…Well, the thirst was profoundly disturbing, too.

But how I loved the taste of human blood.

I was ashamed of it deep down, but I pushed the shame aside at the first scent of blood. The heat of it pulsing through the veins of my prey was like a drug to me, causing the venom to well sweet in my mouth, my breath coming faster in anticipation, my body responding instinctually…

Suddenly I wrenched myself from my reverie. They were coming at me.

The first one came at me from the left, shooting out of the dimness. I heard his growl, felt the movement of his body in the air, his arms outstretched, fingers hooked into claws…

It was a simple matter to take him in the fraction of a second. My body responded with unimaginable speed, my arms closing around him in mid-air, crushing his arms into his torso, as his momentum propelled us into the others who were advancing toward us from the opposite side. They hissed in shock, pulling away, trying to get a better bead on me.

I rolled in the dirt struggling with the other vampire, and our growls and curses filled the night. But it was over quickly. The man knew nothing of fighting hand-to-hand; my father’s lessons came back to me from the cloudy memories of my childhood, surfacing in the movements of my steel muscles as if they had always been there. After a second or so I had managed to get to my feet, hauling him up with me, and with one hand ripped his screaming head free of his neck with a grinding screech. I cast the head from me.

It rolled in the dust, mouth open, still screaming soundlessly.

I kicked it away into the night with a scornful laugh, and turned to the others, who held back, eyes wide in sudden fear. I felt the frenzy roaring inside me, the delight in the successful kill. I felt so very alive.

“Come on now, don’t be shy!” I mocked them, and proceeded to tear the headless corpse into shreds before their rolling red eyes.

They backed away from me, staring, shaking their heads. One was a woman, the other two men. None of them looked as if they’d ever done anything useful in their previous lives; I doubted they would be much good at fighting. Perhaps it was arrogance, but I knew I could take them all easily, despite the odds and their newborn strength.

I cast aside the remains of the man I had just destroyed and beckoned to the others. “Let’s dance, shall we?” I hissed, and crouched down in preparation.

They fled into the night. My laughter followed them.

“Very good, Jasper…Very good indeed,” Maria’s voice purred, her lips brushing my ear. I shivered at the touch and at her proximity, drawing away a little to stare down at her. She was standing beside me; I hadn’t been aware of her approaching in my concentration on the fleeing vampires.

She nudged a glittering, quivering piece of the vampire I’d just shredding with the toe of her shoe, a faint grimace of disgust crossing her lovely face. “Dispose of…this, please, Jasper, and then let’s get back, shall we?” Her full lips curled into a catlike smile, her eyes sparkling up at me like rubies. I shivered. “I can think of much more entertaining things to do than stay out here and watch Randall try to put himself back together, can’t you?”

She threw her head back and laughed, a full-bodied sound like a chorus of bells, and her glossy black hair shimmered in the moonlight. She was beautiful, I had to give her that. And very…appealing. I could feel her desire for me emanating from her in waves, like heat from an oven in winter. It was hard to resist. She knew things, knew how to make me feel so good…

But at times she still gave me a creeping, foreboding sensation that I couldn’t shake, no matter how much I tried to. And somehow, it felt wrong to be with her. I felt incomplete, felt incomplete even with Maria, as if she was the wrong piece to fit into the puzzle of my life.

I heaved a sigh and fell to the unpleasant task of gathering poor Randall up into a pile and setting him afire. As I watched the heavy purple smoke billow up into the brightening sky I tried to remember my life as it had been, to think back to a time when taking a life had meant more to me. It was very hard, but I tried as often as I could to rehash my memories, to keep them alive and not cloud over like Maria said they would with time. I replayed my whole mortal life in my mind in the course of a few seconds.

Maria and her friends had met me on the road coming back from Houston. I have told that story before; let it suffice to say that my gentleman’s sense of honor in the presence of several beautiful and bewitching women was just one of the whole slew of mistakes I made that night. The first mistake had been to try to hurry back to Galveston. The second was to stop and offer help to those women, who had seemed so helpless, when they were far from it. The third had been to not try to run away when she turned her glittering smile upon me…although I knew now that it would have made no difference, except that running away might have made me Maria’s meal instead of her slave and lover.

I stayed with her because I didn’t know where else to go or what to do with myself. Also, because she said she loved me, and that she needed me. That I was valuable and important. Those things were true, in a way, but at the same time, I could feel how shallow those feelings were; they barely masked the cold determination and cruelty that lay beneath them. And Maria’s love was not anything I had ever experienced before. I knew that it wasn’t simple lust, although there was plenty of that, I knew she did care for me…But I had been realizing more and more lately that she cared for me like a useful tool, or a favorite pet or mount, or a prized possession.

You see, I had always known I had something different about me. My talent for picking up on the feelings of others, and for being able to subtly manipulate them, had been amplified a hundred-fold upon my awakening from the agonizing inferno of the change. I could feel the emotions of those around me, and I could manipulate them with ease, if I chose, in an almost tangible and powerful way. It was gratifying at times, but more often it was burdensome, for I’d always been the kind of person who was more restrained and moderate emotionally: now, the feelings of others bombarded me like a plague of buzzing, biting flies, and made it hard sometimes to distinguish what I was feeling from what they were feeling.

I heard Maria humming behind me and sensed her impatience growing. I turned from the bonfire that had been Randall, dusting off my hands on my pants, pasting a smile onto my face. “All done, my love, are you ready now?” I murmured, holding out my hand.

She grinned merrily and took it in hers, adjusting the black shawl around her shoulders, the red silk fringe of it falling down her back, almost matching the color of her eyes. “Yes, my darling, I am more than ready,” she purred, reaching up to caress my cheek, her hand trailing down my neck and onto my chest. Her touch left a river of fire in its wake. I felt her desire increase, and my body responded eagerly.

She laughed, and the sound was mocking and delighted.

We took off at a run, eating up the miles with our graceful loping pace. After a few minutes Monterrey lay before us, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon behind us. We paused on the ridge above the city, looking down at the whitewashed adobe buildings with their red tile roofs coming alight in the daylight.

I turned and looked at Maria, feeling her pride and covetousness swelling; she was staring down at the city with undisguised longing. She was breathtaking in the dawn sunlight, her skin sparkling like diamonds, her hair like jet, her eyes rubies: she looked like a jeweled Madonna, tiny and silent as she glared down at the city stretched below us, but where a Madonna was serene, she was savage in her beauty.

“I swear to you, Jasper, that I shall possess that city again. Soon.” Her voice, normally so silken, beguiling with its latin accent, came out in a gravelly growl. Her lips parted, her teeth bare in a threatening smile that held no humor or warmth. She turned her flaming eyes to mine, placing both of her hands against my chest, looking up at me. “And you will help me, Jasper. You are my secret weapon.”

I sighed silently, trying to keep my feelings from showing on my face. She had said this many times before in the past several months. No matter how much I enjoyed the heat of the battle, I still disliked being used. And no matter how much I wanted to please her for some odd reason, I still didn’t like being manipulated. I reached out and traced the fall of hair across her forehead with one finger.

“Why are you so obsessed with this city, Maria? Can’t we just go somewhere else together, start fresh?”

She shook her head savagely. “No!” Her lip curled in a sneer. “They cast me out before, and I swore I would have my revenge, and reclaim my city. And you and Nettie and Lucy and our little army will make that possible, Jasper!”

I looked back over my shoulder, where I could hear the sounds of someone coming. I could see a faint cloud of dust in the distance; from the speed of the approach, I knew it wasn’t human or horse. It had to be Nettie and Lucy catching up with us. Still, I positioned myself protectively in front of Maria, in case it was someone else.

After a moment Nettie and Lucy and the three that I had frightened off stopped before us, not a hair out of place. The two blondes were grinning merrily; I could feel their glee, and knew that the other three must have told their story of me frightening them away. Maria laughed from behind me, curling her cool fingers around my forearm possessively, resting her cheek against my shoulder.

“So good of you to join us, ladies,” she said cheerfully.

Nettie grinned at her, straightening her elegant blue dress. She was very blonde, gorgeous, her hair almost white, blazing in the early morning sunlight; her eyes, brilliant red, contrasted sharply against her sparkling ivory skin. “Yes, and we brought…these…back with us.” She indicated the three cowards who were trying to hide behind her and Lucy, shaking her head in disgust.

Lucy joined in, her voice like wind chimes. She was taller than Nettie, a bit darker blonde, and just as lovely in her dusky rose dress. “Yes, we came across their paths as we were coming to join you two, they were running like scared rabbits!” She looked at me in innocent wonder. “Whatever did you do to them, Jasper?”

I sighed again. “Maria,” I replied shortly.

Maria chuckled, rubbing my arm. “Well, ladies, I wanted to see how he’d fare against a multiple attack…after all, he was a soldier before, and has proven to be such a wonderful fighter…I’ve put a lot of work into him so far, but you never know how someone will respond to a new, unknown threat.” She patted me possessively. “He is my secret weapon, and weapons must be tested, to prove their mettle.”

I rolled my eyes. “Well, Maria, if you’re looking for other soldiers for your army, those three are poor choices.” I jabbed my finger at the cowards; they drew back further behind Nettie and Lucy, who cackled merrily and stepped aside, making them vulnerable. “Especially the woman. She is completely useless. No fighting instinct, even now. Let her go.”

The woman in question stared at me with terrified crimson eyes, drawing back from my gaze, but I could feel the eagerness and hope spring up in a blaze inside her at the thought of being allowed to leave Maria’s little entourage.

Maria just smiled her cat-in-the-cream smile and kept patting my shoulder. “Oh, don’t worry, Jasper my love, we’ll find more soon…and you will be the one to select them, and train them.” She snapped her fingers at the men who flanked the woman, gesturing toward her vaguely. “You. Get rid of her, boys. We’ll only recruit more men, I think, from now on.”

With a snarl and a screech, the woman was torn to shreds and set afire with much less grace than Randall. I shuddered and turned away. It was still so strange and foreign, repulsive, to me, to see violence done to women. But Maria was more violent than any man I had ever known; she had taught me many of the fighting techniques I had learned: I would not want to face her in a fight unprepared. She was like a raging whirlwind, all ripping claws and savage teeth, and faster than the wind.

I felt a sinking sensation inside me as I watched the purple smoke spiral up into the sky, thinking about Maria’s words. So I would be the one to pick who would be condemned to the kind of existence I was now trapped in…until it was their turn to die in service to Maria. I shivered again and tried to push it out of my mind.

This was my life now. I had better get used to it.

We left the vista of Monterrey and retreated to our newest hideout, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains that overshadowed the city itself. Monterrey was, and still is, a beautiful city, worth fighting for, I suppose. Rich in culture and historical heritage, it is also a thriving city full of humans of all kinds…and Maria wanted it back again. She was constructing an army to take it from the vampires that had taken it from her a few years ago, she said.

There had been six of us, total, when I had first been transformed and “joined” Maria’s little army on the road between Galveston and Houston. It had been me, Maria, Lucy, Nettie, the now-deceased Randall, and one of the two cowardly men, whose name I don’t care to work to remember.

Maria and the rest had been ranging all up and down Texas and northern Mexico, “recruiting,” as Maria called it. Within two weeks of my awakening, Maria and the girls had brought back another four men, other soldiers like myself, Mexican and American, swelling our numbers to ten. They had brought the men, still human, to the warren of caves that pockmarked the mountains which had become our hideout, along with me and the others, and had hidden the men in some of the caves-- where their screams weren’t so bothersome as they transformed.

Once the men had emerged from the burning, Maria had quickly set to instructing us in how to fight.

“You see, my lovelies, you are soldiers, and you are in my army now. You will fight when I say, and you will fight whom I say, and you will make me proud, yes?” she had growled to us, stalking back and forth before us like a preoccupied cat, her eyes flashing. “So you will have to learn from me, from us,” she jerked her head back to indicate Nettie and Lucy, who perched nearby, watching eagerly, “how to fight properly.”

I had been entranced by her. In the days between my awakening and arriving in the caves above Monterrey, Maria had been everything to me. Her beauty and spirit were bewitching, her strength beguiling…and her lust tamed me, caged me. I had never experienced anything like it in my mortal life, and my new immortal body was possessed by such carnal cravings as I’d never dreamed could exist. It was impossible to resist her when she had crooked her finger at me, summoning me to her bed. I was hers, and knew nothing else but her.

She had shown me how to hunt humans, how to track and bring them down without attracting too much notice, how to dispose of the bodies afterward. She and I had shared my first meal, our eyes meeting over the bloodless corpse of a man, and she had smiled that glittering smile at me that had made the breath catch in my throat and the all-consuming passion spread through my body. “So now you know how it’s done, my Jasper, let’s find you one of your very own, shall we?” she had murmured. I obeyed without question, my newborn mind and body adrift in the flood of sensations and feelings coursing through it. It had been so very hard to control myself back then.

That had been a few months ago, that first shared meal with Maria. Since then, things had settled down quite a bit for me; I had gained a lot more control over my body and mind, and had become more aware of my unique power and how to use it. Now sometimes I could control her, instead of the opposite.

At that first group battle lesson, she had soundly beaten us all. Without even a tear in her fancy white dress or a hair awry, Maria had left seven grown men on their rear ends in the dirt, sore from head to toe. I had no idea how she’d done it, but the humiliation at having been beaten by a woman seared inside me, and I had vowed to learn as fast as I could, and to eventually best her. I consoled myself with the thought that I had allowed her to beat me, that I hadn’t given the fight my all, since she was a woman. Once glance and a quick feel of the emotional atmosphere from the men around me reassured me that they all felt the same way, and were thinking about the same things I was.

However, the second, third, and fourth lessons had all ended the same. Maria had cursed us in her screeching, broken-glass voice, calling us worthless and useless. It had stung.

Then, finally, on the fifth lesson, I managed to pin her.

Gazing up at me from the ground, her black curls tumbled all around her porcelain face, she had grinned up at me, her brilliant red eyes caressing my face. “Now then, my Jasper, that is much better!” she’d whispered, and kissed me soundly. It was a worthy reward.

She never beat me again—but it was always a close fight. I hated battling her.

And a few days after that first defeat at my hands, she’d taken me out into the pre-dawn desert and thrown the four other newborns at me, to test me. Apparently I’d passed the test, because things intensified after that.

After that, I was the one to teach the other men. We fought each other savagely, like titans, like monsters, the sounds of our granite-hard bodies crashing into each other echoing through the empty canyons of the Sierra Madre like rockslides. Maria and Nettie and Lucy would sit on a ledge overlooking the battleground and would clap gleefully at a particularly good rout, and their tinkling laughter would encourage us.

Two of the other men had taken up with the other women, although I couldn’t say with any surety that the women didn’t all take turns with all the men at various times. Apparently vampires are a lusty bunch. I know I was, but Maria was enough for me, and just as well: she was extremely jealous, watching my every move around the women with the sharp eyes of a hawk.

Over time, our numbers swelled. The women kept going out and bringing more men back, and often I would accompany them, to give my opinion on the choices of recruits. The men were all soldiers, Mexicans form the South and Americans from the North, taken from both sides of the War, blue or grey. I tried not to let my personal history influence my opinion of the recruits in blue. But it was hard. Their accents irritated me.

My new powers were indispensible, although I kept the realization of what I could do from her—I don’t know why I hid it from her, perhaps I felt I had to keep something to myself. Once Maria had put me in charge of the troops, I used my manipulation of emotions to make sure that everyone remained as calm and focused as possible. I was able to keep even Lucy and Nettie, who were both best of friends and worst of rivals with Maria, from fighting most of the time. The others looked at me a bit in awe; they didn’t know how I did it, but they knew I was in charge.

But despite my best efforts, our training battles weren’t always friendly sparring matches, and my powers weren’t always enough to keep things from becoming deadly. Far too often, the frenzy would overtake some of us, and men would die.

I had killed my first vampire a few days after coming to the caves. It hadn’t been a planned situation, of course, but it was definitely a landmark event.

It had been one of the newborn four that Nettie and Lucy had originally brought out. He had been raving, overcome by the strength and intensity of the new life, and bloodthirsty, his faming eyes rolling wildly in their sockets. Maria had given him over to my care, telling me to take him out to feed, to show him the way things should be done.

She had also, quietly and out of the newborn’s hearing, told me that if he became unmanageable that I shouldn’t feel bad if I had to kill him. I had been horrified by the prospect of that, but hadn’t replied at all, not wanting to risk angering her. I don’t know why I was more controlled than the rest, only being a little “older” to that life than them; perhaps it was due to my unusual ability. I had certainly been a raging mess in my first couple of weeks, though, but I had matured rapidly.

The man was a mess in every way, but perhaps blood would calm him, I thought skeptically. I took him outside and into the cool desert night, led him north through the mountains toward a small village we’d staked out the day before. There were many shepherds scattered with their flocks on the slopes of the mountains surrounding the village, which lay nestled between the skirts of two jagged peaks. I crouched behind a boulder and pointed down the mountain, to where I could easily make out a smoky little campfire and the form of a man, sleeping wrapped in a serape blanket, next to it. His flock lay sleeping in little wooly hummocks all around in the darkness.

“There you go, man, let’s get you something for that thirst, eh?” I said quietly to the newborn, clapping him on the shoulder in a friendly way.

He responded as if I’d shot him, pulling away with a savage snarl and turning on me. “Don’t-touch-me!” he rasped, his chest heaving with his rapid breathing. I felt the disgust and anger and fear rolling off him in palpable waves; it turned my stomach.

“All right, all right,” I whispered, holding my hands out in a gesture of surrender. “But you’ll feel better once you’ve drank, friend.”

He frantically shook his head from side to side as if his brain were full of bees struggling to escape, screwing his eyes shut, his face contorted with indecision and thirst. “What am I?” he muttered, his hand going to his throat, where I could feel the thirst blazing as if it were my own. “What have you monsters made me?” He lifted his eyes to mine, baring his teeth. I backed away, knowing he was probably as strong as I, maybe more so; he was a larger man than I’d been, and I didn’t know much about vampire strength yet. Quite often size doesn’t matter so much.

“Hey, fellow, calm yourself. This is our life now. Maria and the other ladies will take care of us, all we have to do is listen and do what we’re told, and we’ll have a good life.”

He didn’t want to listen. He turned and looked at the sleeping shepherd below us, his eyes narrowing. The wind shifted, throwing the human’s scent toward us: the smell of the man was delicious, his blood so hot and clean. I could hear the pulse at the man’s neck, throbbing within me. I knew I would need to feed soon, too, but I first had to take care of the newborn’s needs, help him adjust.

“Come on now, let’s go down and you can get rid of the worst of that thirst, all right?” I said carefully, extending my hand to him again slowly. He let me come closer, and then we both slipped around the boulder and began to pick our way down the rocky slope, toward where the shepherd slept.

We had no more than a few yards to go before reaching the glowing circle of the man’s campfire when the damn dog started barking.

The animal appeared from nowhere, a mongrel of wolf and hound mixture, his teeth bared and slavering madly as he bayed at us fiercely, his hackles raised, as if he had a particular hatred of us. I have always hated dogs ever since then.

With a gasp, the human rolled over and stood up, faster than I would have expected. He reached into his waistband and pulled out a gun, pointing it out into the darkness with a trembling hand, waving it back and forth, seeking a target. He couldn’t see us there, just beyond the firelight, where we had frozen still as statues at the sound of his dog’s barking, but he knew we were there.

“Quien es?” the shepherd cried, his voice shaking. The dog kept up his racket, barking again and again, growling, pacing back and forth in front of his master, his dark eyes fixed exactly on us. “Quien esta alla?” Who is it? Who is there? I had been learning Spanish from Maria.

I smiled over my shoulder at the other man and made a slight gesture. “Don’t worry about the dog,” I hissed, almost silently; the human couldn’t hear me, but the dog did, and he fairly went crazy, the barking and growling escalating until I wondered if the animal was going to have some kind of seizure. “Go get him!”

The newborn eyed me reluctantly, then moved forward, and stepped into the firelight.

“Madre de Dios!” the shepherd cried, his eyes widening as he took in the vampire’s red eyes and glittering skin, turned into a million diamond facets by the firelight. “Un demonio!” I heard his heartbeat speed up until it was racing so fast I could barely distinguish individual beats. He might drop dead of a heart attack if this wasn’t over soon. “Alejese de mi, Diablo, por el poder de Christo!” Get away from me, Devil, by the power of Christ! He was making the sign of the cross over and over again on his breast, tears springing to his eyes. He began backing away, stumbling, falling down, his eyes fixed on the newborn, huge with terror.

The newborn kept coming, and I stepped behind him, into the firelight as well; the human screamed then, scrambling backward on his hands, until he almost backed into his campfire. The dog kept up his infernal barking, and lunged toward us, making a grab for the other vampire’s outstretched arms with his jagged teeth.

The vampire swatted the dog aside as if he were a moth; the animal crumpled with a whimper, just beyond the campfire’s light. The human began weeping, still holding the gun aloft. I wondered absently if it was even loaded. The weapon looked older than the hills around us, rusted and pitted.

“Take him now, man, stop drawing it out!” I commanded the other vampire harshly, pushing him forward in encouragement.

With typical newborn unpredictability, he turned on me, faster than lightning, snarling. “I said don’t touch me!” he shrieked, and lunged at me, all reason and control completely gone. I felt his resolution to kill me before he realized the thoughts.

I barely kept his teeth from my neck. We crashed into the ground beyond the firelight, and began the deadly dance of our kind that always ends in someone dead and burnt. I hadn’t ever fought another vampire before then, but I had combat experience, and I knew how to keep my head in a crisis. It wasn’t too hard to realize what I needed to do. Maria had told me some things already.

Grunting with effort, the other vampire kept scrabbling at my chest and shoulders, trying to get ahold of my neck; I gripped his wrists and pushed him off me, throwing him several feet away, where he leapt to his feet gracefully and launched himself at me again with hardly a pause. I was ready for him, though, catching him in midair as I later would poor Randall; I crushed the newborn’s arms to his sides, flipped him around, and tore his head from his shoulders with my teeth in one smooth motion. That maneuver would become second nature to me before too long, much to my disgust.

The taste of him in my mouth was cloying; I spit into the dirt as I dispatched the rest of him, trying not to think about what I was doing, tearing the white body into pieces and tossing them into the human’s campfire. Maria had told me that I needed to do that, if I ever killed another of our kind, to keep them from coming back.

All this time, although it had only been about a minute or so, the human had been cowering across the fire from us, his eyes huge and the whites showing, his whole body trembling. I felt his fear and his utter despair; the thought of running away never occurred to him, he knew he couldn’t get away from me. I could hear him praying under his breath.

I sighed, shaking my head. I had so many reasons to kill the human. I could never let him get away and bear tales of the strange demons to his village; also, I was thirsty. So without much preamble, I dispatched him as quickly and as painlessly as possible, calming his terror with one last urge of emotion.

When I rejoined Maria, alone, she arched one perfect black eyebrow in question, but not in surprise. She looked at my clothing, which was torn and in disarray from the fight, and at the fresh blood on my shirt.

“So, I suppose our newborn couldn’t be controlled, my love?” she asked me, running one cool finger down the line of my jawbone, her breath sweet as it washed over me. I trembled at her touch, felt the familiar heat spreading through me in its wake, every nerve in my body tingling and jarringly aware. It was so strange, to feel so many things so intensely all at once: shame, regret, satisfaction…lust.

I shook my head and looked down, not wanting to meet her eyes and see disappointment there. I was afraid she would be angry at my failing to control the other man.

She laughed. “Oh, my Jasper, what is one newborn when there are thousands of humans out there to turn? You just did me a good service, weeding out one of the uncontrollable ones. We’ll be more careful from here on out, yes?”

After that, as I mentioned earlier, during the training fights, sometimes my comrades in arms wouldn’t be able to control themselves, and would end up getting into real fights with each other and sometimes with me. Maria and Nettie and Lucy just clapped their hands and laughed, as if it were the best show ever, whenever we had to light another stinking bonfire and burn the remains of the losers.

“Well done, Jasper, well done!” Maria would crow, and she would reward me.

Her rewards were…well, I am a gentleman, and it’s not suitable to discuss here. Let’s just leave it at this: I was no longer innocent.

But besides those kinds of rewards, we were given humans, as many as we could take, their blood fortifying us. It made us stronger and faster, and my powers grew day by day as I learned to harness them. The casualties started to go down, eventually leveling out, until we had about twenty men at all times, which was a good, large force. It was also going to be impossible to keep us hidden much longer.

The vampires who controlled Monterrey surely knew we were there by then, although we were careful to never go down into the city, or even approach it. We hunted in the opposite direction of the city, taking care to hide the bodies of our prey, but after a while that many disappearances wouldn’t be able to be ignored, even though the girls took care to bring as many of our prey from far away as possible.

One night, as I lay with Maria in the darkness of our own little cave, she asked me when I was going to be ready.

I looked down at her, puzzled. “Ready for what?” I asked.

She chuckled. “Ay, querida, ready for the battle we’ve been preparing for these months, of course!” She pushed up onto one elbow, tickled the end of my nose with one lock of her black hair, kissing my neck. I shivered, reached for her.

“Ah, no, darling, not right now. We must talk, first. Then…we shall see!” she giggled, pulling away from me. I groaned in protest as she pulled on her clothes again and stuffed her feet into her shoes. She came and sat down next to me again, stroking my hair, but not in a seductive way. Almost like she was grooming me. I felt her contentment and pride in me, in what we had accomplished. I also felt, beneath it, that same burning ambition and hatred, that desire for revenge and conquest. Her eyes flashed in the darkness; even though it was pitch black, I could see her clearly, sitting beside me like a china doll, white skin, flawless face, tiny.

“You are happy here with me, yes, Jasper?” she asked carefully, her fingers lingering on my lips.

I nodded. “Of course, Maria.” I kissed her fingertips.

She nodded back, her full lips pursing thoughtfully. “And you would never think of leaving me, no?”

“Of course not!” I sat up, reaching out to cup her chin in my hand. “Wherever else would I go?”

But then, there it was again: that pang I always felt when I thought of spending forever with Maria. That feeling of something that was almost pain, a pain that seemed to illuminate the emptiness inside my soul, showing me that half of it was missing. That this was wrong. That she was wrong for me. That what I was doing was wrong. I stuffed it down, struggled to keep the emotion from showing on my face.

She didn’t seem to realize what was going on inside me, her ruby eyes gazing off into the darkness, deep in thought, far away. Finally she seemed to come back to herself with a jolt, and her eyes fastened on mine again, her face full of hunger…but not hunger for me. Again, I felt that surge of greed and desire for revenge.

“Those bastards threw me out of my own home, Jasper, and I shall never let them keep it. Monterrey is mine.”

I had never really spoken to her about what had happened, and I didn’t know if that was a good time to begin such a line of conversation, but she made my pondering moot.

Maria sighed sadly, cushioning her chin on her folded arms, which rested on her drawn-up knees. Once again her eyes were far away.

“You see, Jasper, things were good, back in the old days. We had our individual covens, scattered all over Mexico and Central and South America. We respected each other’s lands and herds,”—for this is how they referred to humans, as cattle—“and we occasionally fought if someone overstepped their bounds, but overall, it was good. We prospered. We amassed wealth and had a good existence.

“I was made in Mexico, in 1644 or thereabouts. My maker chose me because I was beautiful, and he collected beauty like flowers or gemstones.” She smiled and stroked her long hair in a self-satisfied way; I smiled indulgently. She was beautiful. “Anyway, my maker brought me and my coven sisters and brothers north, to Monterrey, where we established ourselves well. No other vampires lived nearby, and we could afford to spread ourselves out and enjoy what the area had to offer. We didn’t care if humans knew about us, we were clearly the lords and masters, and if the cattle knowing about us created a sense of healthy respect in them, for us, so much the better, no?”

She looked at me as if appealing to me to agree with her. I nodded; it seemed best. I could sense her growing tension and distress as her memories took her back. After a moment she continued.

“Then…well, then one day he came.” She shuddered, her lips parting to bare her teeth in a fierce grimace that made me shiver in apprehension.

“Who?” I asked softly, running my hand tentatively up her arm and to her face, caressing the angle of her cheekbone. “Who came?”

“Benito.” The name held nothing for me, but I felt the loathing and fear in her. I waited for her to go on.

“He was a vampire from somewhere in Texas, a Mexican Tejano, almost a damned newborn. But he was smart. So very smart.” She shook her head sadly. “I heard later that he’d massacred a few covens in Texas before moving down into Mexico and taking Monterrey. He was the one who came up with the idea of making an army of newborns to protect his interests. It had never been done before. Somehow he pieced together that the extreme strength of the newborns might be harnessed into something useful, and he set about trying to figure out how to do that. He was very, very successful.

“All I remember is that I had been playing my guitar in the courtyard of my beautiful home, the home I had spent years furnishing and making perfect…and then they were there, perhaps fifty of them, newborns, an army of them…” She let her head fall forward onto her arms, hiding her face. “They killed my maker and I think all of my coven brothers and sister within a few hours…I only managed to escape by fleeing. I ran south, toward Mexico City, where I hoped to find refuge and rebuild my life.

“But then he appeared in Mexico City, too. However, I had told the ones I found in Mexico City about Benito’s army, and they had decided to copy his tactic.” She lifted her head and smiled grimly at me. “We were able to fight him off, but it was difficult. He and his accursed newborns retreated to Puebla, where they stayed for a while…Every so often they’d stage a sortie and raid the city, or we would…Well, the casualties in the humans and vampires were gigantic, to say the least.”

She heaved a sigh and straightened a bit, her eyes wide. “And then…they came.” Her voice was cold, and choked from her as if the words were stuck in her throat.

I chuckled. First him and now they. But after a moment, I felt how her emotions were changing, and the humor evaporated in me. The anger was changing with her memories, changing into abject terror, as if her memories were horrifying. Whoever they were, it was serious business. Maria didn’t frighten easily.

I reached out and rubbed her shoulder, trying to calm her with my touch and with my powers. It worked a little bit; her tension eased, and she was able to continue.

“All I know is that one morning, there was word from Puebla that Benito was dead, that some mysterious army had materialized out of thin air and started slaughtering all the vampires in sight, that they possessed terrible and awesome powers…” She shuddered. “And then, they were in Mexico City, and the killing began again there. The assassins were intent on slaughtering anyone with any connection to Benito’s aberration.

“Once again, I had to flee for my life. I decided perhaps north was better than south, since it seemed that the strange assassins were heading south. I knew they were after those associated with the newborn armies, and I did what many of the others did: I got out of there as fast as my feet could carry me.”

Maria shook her head, as if clearing it of cobwebs. “I found out later that the assassins were from Italy, and they were very, very old, some of them…They considered themselves something like the policemen of our kind, the enforcers of secrecy and such. I made my way north and into the United States again, taking shelter in California for a while, drifting about aimlessly for several years.

“I heard from some other drifters that I ran across that the Volturi, the ones from Italy, spent almost a year cleansing Mexico and the rest of the South, and then they had vanished as suddenly as they had appeared. And that it was safe to go back South again, but that we had to be careful to not attract attention or flaunt our presence like we had before, or the killers would return to punish us. So I went South again, to Monterrey, to see if I could pick back up where I left off. Surely, I thought, my home would still be standing, and maybe some of my old coven might have survived, by some miracle.”

Her blazing eyes locked on me again. “But when I went home again, I found two upstarts from Mexico City had taken over Monterrey with a small army of newborns, and they cast me out, I was almost killed. They had even moved into my old home!” She pounded her little fist into the floor of the cave in frustration. “And then, I vowed that I would do what they had done, that I would take my city back with my own army, but that I would be smart about it, unlike those fools.” She lifted her chin triumphantly. “And that is when I found Nettie and Lucy, when I was wandering again in Texas. They’d been displaced as well, Nettie from Montgomery, Alabama, and Lucy from Atlanta. They agreed with me, and wanted to help me take my city long as they received a generous amount of human territory as compensation.”

I nodded, finally understanding why I had never felt like the three women were truly friends: theirs was a partnership of convenience only, and I knew it was not going to last long. Among the human blood drinkers of our kind, there is never more than an uneasy truce, except among the Volturi, who have their own methods of enforcing loyalty and obedience.

She smiled at me, leaning forward and kissing me on the forehead. “And that is where you come in, my handsome soldier boy,” she said, her tone dripping with pride and satisfaction. Again, I felt that pang of wrongness, knew I was being used. But what other option did I have? I had no idea that anything different was available to me, and at least Maria loved and needed me, in her own way.

“So, my darling, you must tell me when you think our troops are ready to begin our campaign. Now you know how important it is to me. Soon, I hope?”

I smiled, shaking off the feelings inside, feeling my own pride well up, mingling with hers. “Soon, Maria. Very soon. I can push them harder. Within a week, no more.”

Maria grinned her glittering smile, all her perfect, venom-coated teeth shining even in the pitch-blackness of the cave. “Perfect,” she murmured, and leaned toward me, unfolding her legs to come closer.

I felt her cool breath against my neck, felt the sharpness of her teeth as she nibbled at the tender spot where neck and shoulder joined; I felt the desire oozing from her, and felt my own roar to life in response. I reached out and pulled her to me, felt her chuckle soundlessly as our lips met, and we tumbled to the floor again, our hands making quick work of tearing our clothes away in our haste to feel skin on skin.

“Perfect…”

I was a man of my word. Within a week I had kicked, punched and cursed the newborns into some semblance of a cohesive fighting unit: twenty-three amazingly strong, fast, and well-trained young vampires, all lusting for the chance to prove themselves to Maria and the other women.

My lover was overjoyed with us, and with me. She rewarded me well, and she promised the lads lavish rewards if they pulled through and gave her her city back. They slavishly followed her every word.

We descended on Monterrey in the grey hours before dawn, and found that the city was woefully under-defended. Only the two older ones that Maria had spoken about were even close to capable of resisting us, their nine-man newborn army no match for our well-trained fighters. We made quick work of it; within a few hours, we’d dispatched them all, and the clouds of purple smoke were ascending into the dawn sky. Not a single human knew of what had happened within the confines of their sleeping city that morning, and Maria was ecstatic. I was able to carry her over the threshold of her old house and make love to her on her old bed; the joy of her triumph was heady and sweet, like a drug coursing through me. I was enchanted again by her, no matter how much that wrongness kept bubbling up inside me; I was determined to make things work with her.

After that, my Maria became drunk on her own power, not content with just Monterrey. She became obsessed with the idea of empire. No matter how often I tried to convince her to keep things manageable, that we didn’t need more lands, that we couldn’t dare take a chance on incurring the Volturi’s wrath, she didn’t listen. And I, as her faithful slave and companion, did what she asked me to do.

I created and trained newborn after newborn. Many died, but many lived, and the numbers of our army were maintained. And it worked. We conquered most of Texas and northern Mexico within a year, but it was a short-lived empire, for the number of Maria’s enemies were growing by the day. They retaliated, coming in droves from the South to confront us, and war began in earnest. I lived in daily fear that the Volturi would appear out of thin air, like Maria’s tale, and dreaded the dawn, wondering if it would come, revealing the assassins at our door.

They were too much for us, no matter how well-trained we were. By the time a year was out, we had lost most of Texas and were fighting tooth and claw to keep northern Mexico. Our center of operations was Monterrey, of course. We all knew it was a losing fight; I began to quietly try to influence Maria to stop her quest for more “herd lands.” And that is when things went from bad to worse.

Once morning Nettie stormed into Maria’s house (no matter how long I lived there with her, it would always be Maria’s house), her eyes blazing, her anger almost visible around her.

“Maria!” she screamed, busting through the front door, shattering it on its hinges.

Maria and I had been sitting in front of the fireplace, talking about what to do next regarding strategy. I had a bunch of maps in my lap, where I was pointing out weak spots in our defensive line, and where we had strong points, trying to nudge her into reconsidering retreating. When Nettie screamed we jumped, and the maps tumbled to the floor, forgotten.

Nettie slammed one fist into the adobe wall of the house, punching a deep hole into the hard clay, dust showering everything. Maria stared at Nettie, horrified.

“What in the name of Christ is wrong with you, Nettie?” she shrieked.

Nettie glared at her, and I saw Lucy behind her, looking equally as angry but not quite so out of control. Nettie licked her lips and bared her teeth menacingly at Maria, a low growl rumbling from her chest. It was shocking, how predatory such a beautiful woman could look. It was disturbing.

“You know damn well why I’m angry, you greedy slut!” she growled, coming closer to us. I stepped in front of Maria protectively, holding out my arm to keep Nettie from coming any closer. She glared at me too, her lip curling in disdain. “Get out of my way, Jasper, I have a right to quarrel with her!”

I shook my head sadly. “Sorry, Nettie, I can’t let you hurt her. What is wrong?”

She hissed at me, her hand balling into fists. Lucy stood directly behind her, her red eyes narrowed menacingly. She somehow looked even more dangerous than Nettie in her quiet rage. I began calculating how I could get Maria out of the house without leveling it and without hurting the women. I still hated doing that, and tried to avoid it all I could.

Finally Lucy spoke.

“Maria knows very well why we’re angry, Jasper.” She stepped around Nettie, looking up at me and meeting my eye unflinchingly. “Maria has been lying to us for over a year now, leading us on, promising all kinds of things in return for our help, then never delivering it. She promised us peace and prey, not war after war. We’re tired of the fighting, tired of the conflicts. And Maria knows that, but she keeps it up. She’ll never stop until we’re all dead, and she knows it. She’s power-mad, and hiding behind you and your men. Well, we’re through!” She shot a fiery glare at Maria, her lips curling in angry disdain. “We have worked for all this time, and we have nothing to show for it!”

I looked back at Maria, who was staring down at the ground. I didn’t know what to do.

“Well, Nettie, Lucy, we need you…the men love you, and Maria and I do, too…” I began lamely, but Maria cut me off.

“Speak for yourself, Jasper. I hate these two ignorant putas, and would be glad to see them go!” she hissed. I blinked, knowing that calling them “prostitutes” wouldn’t make things any calmer.

Nettie’s eyes widened at the words, and I felt her control break. I’d gotten good at predicting it in my men. I knew she was going for Maria before she even did, and was ready to catch her.

Spitting and snarling like a wet cat, Nettie struggled against me, kicking and clawing at me. I felt the sting of her venom when she sunk her sharp teeth into my wrist and flung her from me reflexively, not wanting to lose a chunk of flesh, no matter if it could be easily re-attached; she crashed into the wall of the house with a thunderous sound, and plaster rained down upon us all.

Lucy wasted no time, using my distraction with Nettie to dart around me and tackle Maria, who screamed her own enraged challenge in response. The two of them began to battle, rolling here and there throughout the house, destroying furniture and artwork and anything else in their way; at one point they punched through a wall and crashed out into the courtyard, where I heard them splash into the fountain, screeching and spitting and growling. It sounded like a bag of wet bobcats.

I had my hands full with Nettie, even as I kept tabs on Maria’s fight. I’d never fought Nettie before; she was fast and smart, always seeming able to anticipate my moves after that original emotional lapse of control. She scored several good points, giving me a few of the scars that I still bear to this day. But I eventually won. I hated fighting her, feeling the narrow bones of her feminine body break under my hands, hearing her screams of pain as I wrenched her apart into small pieces. I had to protect Maria, regardless of how wrong she was.

But I knew, in the back of my head, that they were right. It was a nagging, maddening itch, that certainty, that helped add to the overall sense of wrongness that I kept trying to quell inside me.

It was over. I gathered up all the pieces of the woman I had just killed and piled them in the fireplace, tossing in a match. Nettie caught fire immediately, as we all do: venom must be very flammable, I thought absently, rubbing at the stinging gouges on my forearms, as I tried to ignore the cloying scent of her going up in smoke.

After a few minutes Maria came in, her arms loaded with the remains of Lucy. I averted my eyes as she dumped the pieces into the fireplace. I glanced down at her: she was disheveled, soaked, her hair crazy and tangled around her face, which was marked with fresh scratches. Her dress hung in shreds, and she was rubbing a deep gash in her side. She leaned against me tiredly and I reached up to smooth her hair.

“Well,” she said quietly, “At least that’s over and done with. No more having to deal with them.”

I eyed her in surprise. “Did you expect that to happen?” I asked. I had also expected it, but I did have an unknown advantage in that department. The animosity between those three had been building steadily for over a year, becoming a ticking time-bomb. I was actually a bit surprised the uneasy truce between them had lasted as long as it had. Our kind naturally has difficulty getting along with each other for extended periods of time, and adding in feminine volatility, jealousy and greed only makes it worse.

Maria nodded. “Of course. They were jealous of me, and they wanted to take what I have earned.”

I shook my head sadly. Still power-hungry. I wondered when it would end, if I would ever have peace. I saw, in my mind, the years stretching on endlessly: fighting, struggling, scrabbling…and so much death and destruction. It seemed all I was capable of. The very word “peace” seemed foreign.

It would be many, many long and empty years before I found that peace.

Before I found her.